Do You No Longer Identify As Caucasian When You’re Gay? The Other Side Of Tokenism
When I wrote about the issues that can occur with ethnic/racial minorities that are gay and some of the challenges or internal conflicts that may arise, I was surprised in the reaction I got from it. Not the actual responses and emails about wanting to hear more about these issues but there were those of you out there that actually identified and wanted to hear more. And I’m very thankful for the open dialogue that it has begun as that is how awareness happens and how things begin to change when we talk about them.
One of the questions I received yesterday wanted me to talk about if there is another side of that coin to the concept of tokenism. What happens when we look at how gay Caucasian men may look at their race and how that relates to their identity in the gay community. So as before I spoke with my group of friends to brainstorm and examine if we felt some aspects of this phenomena existed in different ways. Or if race could play a factor in ways we hadn’t thought about that’s never really examined.
During this conversation we talked about if gay Caucasians could feel cultural/racial dysphoria, or uncomfortable disdain for their own race, if these individuals would possibly adopt another race/culture. Too often it’s overlooked that there are personal conflicts in relation to race, no matter if it’s a part of a minority or majority. Most often when you hear about a pundit, politician or religious extremist that is relentlessly denouncing homosexuality in any form, what are some of the things that you notice?
Of course they have one commonality (other than ignorance) is that they are most likely Caucasian. It is an accepted truth that many of those that oppose equal rights are from the same race. But what about those that oppose these archaic ways of oppression? Many of our leaders in the LGBT community are Caucasian as well.
We talked about how that may lead some to becoming so disgruntled about their own race that they no longer see themselves as Caucasian. It goes beyond them seeing disparities among a minority. They may no longer hold their own race as a part of their identity and any associations with their own color are negative. There are several reasons that I attributed to this phenomena.
The biggest is that because as we are fighting for equal rights and we are being denied fair treatment, and anything we commonly associates with oppression will be denounced. This rejection happens with the group that is oppressing/discriminating against us, even if we belong to that group. Regardless of the inherent perks or advantages that come along with that race, any identity with the native group is abandoned.
Some of us in our discussion theorized that as a result, some gay Caucasians, especially gay men, may no longer identify themselves as Caucasian and only see themselves as gay. It could be the result of internalized guilt that they may associate with their race because of the stigma and prejudices that the LGBT community still face. We talked about how in some of our experiences people may even become offended and very defensive if you refer to them as Caucasian. There’s evidence of that when we hear gay Caucasian men refer to these radicals as “straight white males” or use other classifications of race as a detriment to the gay civil rights movement. And it’s something that we should take notice of.
Over the course of the night we talked briefly about how the ideal of tokenism, or the belief that a community will welcome a few select members of a minority so that they are not accused of racism or prejudice. It was also discussed how the concept of tokenism may drive some gay ethnic/racial minorities to assimilate and isolate themselves from their racial/ethnic identity. They may result in them not dating people of their own race or other discriminatory practices like racially insensitive jokes.
Could something drive a person reject an identity of their own race to not be associated with the same negative generalizations? Of course we can as that was the topic before about how sometimes ethnic minorities separate themselves from anything or anyone that they associate with their own race for fear of reprisal or association to negative stereotypes. So why wouldn’t the same principle apply to some gay Caucasians. But is this the reverse of tokenism and can we apply these principles? I can see why some would believe that there is some sort of racial dysphoria involved. Because instead of a community adopting members of other ethnic backgrounds this is the actual rejection of the community they belong to and their beliefs.
We were able to tie in a part of our nation’s history as evidence of why this happens. For instance the 60s during the fight for interracial marriage. It was believed that if you dated or married outside of your race( (more specifically an African American) then you were stripped of any privilege that came with being Caucasian. You were actually seen as an African American. It has of the aspects of a US vs. Them mentality.
As time went on, we saw less and less of this overt racism but we still see these acts against African Americans and any race that associates outside their own race is still seen by some on level as abandoning their native race. It may not be openly discussed but the belief is still there. And this theory could also apply to LGBT. As a result of identifying as gay and because of these beliefs or prejudice from their group, they isolate themselves from any categories/labels or names associated with their group before it can be done to them.
Another point that was brought up was that even though overt and institutionalized homophobia/racism still exists, there is still a belief that how you are viewed within the society is different. Being gay may be identified in the same way. Some may actually feel as though they have to abandon any identity as race because of history and to their own unique experiences. Now the opposite of this averseness is when people say they don’t see their race at all and unable to see the perceived privilege that they have in society. Some believe that even though when individuals refer to their own race they have to keep in mind that they are still Caucasian. They still do in fact have some privilege.
It certainly isn’t in the same vein of their straight counterparts like ability to get married. But they are still allowed, in some extent to be vocal and have their opinion heard. Even though our requests for not equality are not met, when a Caucasian man speaks about an injustice, he is still much more likely to have his beliefs recognized. This is not the same for gay ethnic/racial minorities that are not made to feel as though they can at least express what they see as discriminatory or prejudice. But we felt that it’s more complex than that.What problems arise as a result of those that feel dysphoria with their own race abandon that identity and decide to take on aspects of another race?
It is natural to take on different cultural aspects than our own that we like. In fact we may sometimes identify with other races more than our own race because of the discrimination they’ve experienced and the rights that they have been denied. They may also identify as an adoptive member as a result and ignore or refuse any association with their native group. I’m not suggesting that it’s a bad thing that some may date their race or other races. Date or relate to whomever you wish but don’t associate the negative actions of any community as if they are all participants.
Maybe this is what we see the adaption of African American customs, mannerisms, and behaviors with gay Caucasian men. Because these men are able to see the struggles of that African Americans, and more specifically, African American women have endured for centuries and even in some aspects today. African American women are always depicted as no nonsense women that are passionate, direct in thought and behavior, and willing to stand up against any perceived threat, as most African American women are depicted this way. And we also discussed that though there is nothing wrong with this aspect in theory, it’s important those that do partake in this behavior do not caricaturize or over inflate stereotypes. Because naturally we are all more than a stereotype.
When I gathered some of the same friends I had discussed the previous topic with, one of my friends who is a gay Caucasian man agreed with this ideal of adopting some aspects of the African American culture. He talked about his experiences and how he watched 70s movies growing up and how Pam Grier, was his inspiration. When coming out was unbearable to him he’d watch her movies that always were about empowered African American women and how that gave him courage when he felt he had none.
My friend believed his adaptation happened because taking on and embodying these believed personas of the African American woman gave them a sense of strength so that he could come out. He found strength in a culture that he felt praises differences and how this culture saw femininity was synonymous with strength, not weakness. Of course we know this isn’t every gay Caucasian man’s story or reasoning for liking certain aspects of African American culture, but I do think it’s food for thought.
Some of you are inevitably saying right now “why are we even talking about race? I don’t see color” Yes you do, and unless you have some type of visual impairment you see color. We all do as humans because we automatically categorize everything we see. And because of our history and experiences we inherit ideals that too often are never questioned. We have be willing to talk about it because race still plays a role in our beliefs, concepts no matter how much we may not want it to be that way. Talking about everyone’s ideals on it helps ensure that it is not the only thing you see.
We brainstormed some more with lots of charts, jargon and even a dry erase board to think of ways this could be mediated. After arguing for an hour we decided the most important aspect is that those that may feel included in this aversion to their own race may remedy this by specifically identifying the differences between showing empathy and feeling guilt. That’s is what I believe to be the most prominent way to understand these feelings so we can open dialogue about racial differences and the injustices that some minorities still feel.
The point to all of this discussion was to show how no one wants to be identified as just a race or only by their sexuality. But by looking at how race can still impact all of us and how we see ourselves makes it a worthy discussion to have. So that we are aware of what can happen when we let those things define us instead of us deciding how we define ourselves. We are all complex beings with varying interests and attributes that show who we really are and what we have to offer. The group of us that discussed this were comprised of different races and sexuality and we discovered that when we enter with an open mind that we can make surprising discoveries that can foster understanding how these things affect us and our perceptions of others. So talk about it to learn more about yourself.